After warming up with several visits to Trenton, the New Jersey state capital, on exciting outings like “Get an official copy of a marriage license” and “Submit Form 104 (c) to the County Clerk,” my kids were ready for the big-time—a visit to the nation’s capital.
“Think state politicians are corrupt?” I asked them. “Just wait till you learn about Richard Nixon and Watergate! We’ll stop by K Street and see the men and women (mostly men) who peddle national influence on a daily basis! Am I talking about the lobbyists or the politicians? Oh, you’ll just have to wait and see!”
Actually, the sales pitch for Washington D.C. was much more traditional, and better suited to a 7- and 8-year old audience. It wasn’t difficult to generate enthusiasm once I explained that we’d be visiting lots of famous buildings they’d only seen previously on the backs of coins and bills. A showing of both National Treasure movies helped too, though I was careful to explain that we would be neither stealing the Declaration of Independence, nor kidnapping the president during our visit.
The planning began with an attempt to secure a White House Tour—and since Barack never returns my calls (he’s a busy guy), I followed the procedure prescribed for the common citizen: I called my local Congressman, Chris Smith.
Lest you think I boast a swelled head or a stuffed Rolodex (it may be time to retire that last cliché to the land of obsolete references), let me assure you that Mr. Smith, having gone to Washington, was also unavailable for conversation. Luckily, his aide was downright chatty.
Within a few moments, congressional wheels were in motion. This was not an attempt at the famously difficult-to-acquire recommendation to an Armed Forces Academy, after all. We weren’t even seeking an honest, on-the-record statement about a current political topic. All we wanted was a tour of the president’s pad. And, with little more difficulty than securing a reservation at a restaurant (except for the fact that restaurants don’t usually ask for Social Security numbers or do background checks), our request was logged.
We wouldn’t find out if that request was actually granted until a couple of weeks before our desired tour date, which made things a little tricky to plan around. Finally, the word from the president (OK, maybe his surrogate) was given: “Come on over!” The additional, unspoken messages were “I don’t trust you, so you’ll be checked at least four times before you enter,” “You can only stay for about half an hour,” and “Don’t touch any of my stuff.” Operation: White House Tour was a go.
The White House was befitting and impressive, as you might expect. Having completed two museum visits the day before, the kids were a bit confused at the absence of a White House gift shop, and I have to admit, they may be on to something. Wouldn’t it be kind of cool (and distinctly American) if foreign ambassadors and diplomats were shunted off into a gift shop after meeting with the POTUS, so they could grab a few souvenirs for the family? With the reputation for spending that follows some of these dignitaries, I have no doubt that the extra money coming into the U.S. Treasury would allow us to lower everyone’s taxes a few percentage points.
Although it’s unlikely I’ll see that particular dream realized, there is, conveniently, a store near the White House that will allow you to take pictures with their Oval Office backdrops, provided you spend a minimum of $10 on White House-themed baubles and trinkets. At least someone is cashing in on the demand.
The White House tour was interesting, but it didn’t outshine the rest of the city’s (sorry, district’s) highlights: the various monuments and memorials, the outstanding (and free) museums. It’s fascinating to watch kids fitting various fragments of America’s past into their proper places in the timeline, and enlightening to see that, despite the excellent Martin Luther King. Jr. Memorial, war still seems to be the central theme in our country’s remembered history.
We’ve got plenty of pictures (and a few new refrigerator magnets) to help us remember our trip to D.C. But my most treasured memento is a photo from that gift shop, with me standing behind an official-looking podium, and in front of a crooked White House emblem. King for a day… or president, for about three seconds.
Peter Dabbene lives and writes in Hamilton. His website is peterdabbene.com.